Long distance running (around 10k and beyond) is one of my favorite ways to wind down after a long day at work. It gives me a chance to get outside and be away from everyone so that I can collect my thoughts. Running also tends to improve my mood & can help fight off depression. It's an amazing tool, and I believe that it isn't just for the die-hard athletes. My goal in this instructable is to provide some helpful tips and tricks to get you running farther. Disclaimer: I'm not an expert. Most of these tips are either things that I've learned from experience or things that I've picked up from other runners. A few of them I've researched before. If you're going to actively pursue long-distance running then please research how to avoid running-related injuries. Livestrong.com and Runner's World have lots of great articles on the topic and I strongly recommend them. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's get this shoe on the road (totally pun intended).
Step 1: Winning the Mental Battle
The biggest struggle in running is overcoming the mental barrier. For some, this may be quite easy (congratulations). The rest of us are going to have to work for it though. Don't be scared, you don't have to run 6 miles today. Start with what you can do, even if it's less than a half mile, and work your way up. Eventually, these mental barriers fade away altogether and reaching farther distances becomes easier.
I believe the best course of action when trying to overcome mental barriers is to first get outside. Treadmills are ok, but there's something special about running outside in the cool of the day. The birds chirping, the sun setting, a nice cool breeze. Even during the hot summer months, it can still be enjoyable (on the less humid days anyway). Running outside also allows you to actually move forward (which can be a big positivity boost once you've seen how far you've run). The following are a few more tips to help you increase your mental endurance.
Tip 1: Get some music playing. Music is your greatest ally. It distracts your mind from any pain you may be in and may even help prevent cramps by throwing your breathing patterns off (That's how it helps me anyway). Finally, it gives you something to run to the beat of which can either increase or decrease your pace depending on the song that you select (and either result may be desired). I like to listen to rock for short runs because it helps me run faster, and softer music for long runs because it helps relax my breathing.
Tip 2: Make a list of 4 reasons why you're allowed to stop running and try your best to stick to it. This list is a great self-motivational tool to help you ignore small pains and soreness/discomfort that occur while running. You can use my list (shown below) or makeup one of your own. Obviously reaching the distance you set out to run that day or having your safety threatened are reasons to stop. Always use common sense and don't get yourself hurt.
1. Cannot take a breath for more than 5 seconds.
2. More than 1 third of my vision fades.
3. I get a cramp that causes my body to fold on itself.
4. I tweak my knee (seriously recommend stopping if this happens)
Tip 3: Come up with a route you like and stick with it for a while. Eventually, your mind will be used to it and it will seem shorter than it really is thus making the run easier mentally. I've been running in a subdivision near my house for 2 years now and I almost always run the exact same route. In real time I'm still running just as fast and for the same amount of time as when I run elsewhere, but mentally it feels so much shorter.
Tip 3.5: Try to make your route so that there is a stop sign or landmark of some sort at the end. This gives a helpful visual to work towards when you're at the end of your run and completely exhausted.
Step 2: Winning the Physical Battle
This is actually one of the easier parts of long distance running. Once you've got the mental part out of the way the physical part is something you can gradually work up to. If you find you're having trouble in this area don't fret. Be patient while you build strength and endurance. The tips below should help steer you in the right direction.
Tip 1: Start slow. We're not worried about speed just yet. Right now our primary goal is to reach the desired distance without having to stop for breaks. Remember the tortoise and the hare? This is the philosophy we have to start out with in the beginning and then we can level up to fast and steady later.
Tip 2: Don't get injured! This is all about having fun and feeling great. As you increase your weekly distance it is important that you pay attention and listen to your legs and lungs. Don't wear them out. Give them time to cool down properly by walking after each run and then eat a snack with lots of protein shortly after finishing a run to start the healing process. Do some research based on your age and prior experience to learn about what you should do specifically to avoid injuries. Also, if you need a break, take a break. There's no shame in taking a few days off from running to let your ankles or knees heal so that they don't become seriously injured. Have fun, but be safe.
Tip 3: Eat & Heal. Running doesn't give us a free pass to eat whatever we want, but it does give us a lot more freedom. In order to stay healthy while running, make sure you're getting plenty of electrolytes and protein. This means salty foods, meat, and plenty of fruits (vegetables are equally as important, but I honestly prefer the fruit:)
Step 3: Increasing Speed
If you've made it to this step, great job! By now you've reached your target distance, and running for long periods of time feels pretty natural and easy. You're ready for the next challenge: Increasing speed! This is where some extra research into how to keep from getting injured and stay healthy while running can become extremely beneficial. Below I a few tricks I have found that helped me increase my long distance speed. If you know any others then please let me know down in the comments. I'd love to hear them:)
Tip 1: Get a tracking app. I recommend MapMyRun (not a sponsor, they're just that good) which you can get for free on google play. It'll track your distance and speed along with many other useful measurements such as calories burned and pace vs. altitude. The major benefit of using a tracking app is it's real-time data reports. I have mine set to tell me my time and average pace once every mile. This helps me know if I need to run faster or if my current pace is ok to reach the time goal that I want.
Tip 2: Don't use stretching as a way to warm up. This one may work differently for different people, but I've tried it with good success. Feel free to do your own research on the topic and experiment with it yourself. As an alternative warmup that's really quick do wall sits and lunges followed by several minutes of walking to warm up and loosen your legs.
Tip 3: Try to increase speed on shorter distances before increasing speed on long distances. My favorite way to train for speed is to run one mile as fast as I possibly can, and then run a half mile of mailbox sprints. Mailbox sprints are where you sprint as fast as you can in between every other mailbox, and then walk and try to recover your breathing as fast as you can during non-sprint segments. There are several other dedicated speed workouts out there, but this is the one that I've had the most success with.
And that's pretty much it. I hope you have enjoyed this instructable and that this will inspire at least three and a half people to go running. Should you want to dig deeper into runner's health and related topics livestrong.com has a lot of great articles. If you do try any of the tips in this instructable please let me know in the comments. I'll also be happy to answer any running questions you may have and if I don't know the answer then I will do my best to search for one:) Thank you for reading and have a splendid day!